Booed off the Stage at my Home Club

There’s a story comedians will often tell each other after a bad set, and that is the story of Dave Chappelle getting booed off the stage at the Apollo Theatre, back when he was a teen in the early 90’s. It’s a comforting story to a comic who just bombed, because Chappelle became such a huge success after what sounds like a bombing way worse than anything you or I (until recently) have experienced. Even back then Dave was funny, but he was young in comedy and this Harlem crowd was merciless. He recounts the experience as being one of the defining moments in his career, that shaped him into the comic he became later on. And thus, as a comedian, you hear this story and think, well, “Even if a crowd boo’s me off stage, I just might go on to be the next Dave Chappelle!”

Sadly though, sometimes you just get booed off stage because you…suck. The universe is trying to tell you something. I mean, it takes a lot for a crowd to boo someone off stage. The crowd is not just sitting in silence like a normal bombing; a booing takes effort, moving around, and raised voices. You really do have to anger a whole group of people all at once, which requires a special talent in itself. It’d be really interesting to have a competition, where the crowd doesn’t know, but each comedian on the show’s goal is to get the crowd to boo them offstage. I guarantee that even some of the worst comedians we know could not pull it off! Well, my friends, I pulled it off.

It’s the night after Christmas, and all through the house…no one laughs, not even their spouse. I’m returning to comedy after 2 nights off, which is the most I’ve taken since my 10 day hiatus right after my 1,000 days. I’m the kind of comedian who gets rusty real fast. Even between nights, I rust. If I take a full week off of comedy I’m like a junkyard, ready to trash the whole show and give them tetanus. Why, I’m not sure. But I know it has something to do with me being very antisocial. Whereas some comedians spend their off-time yap yap yapping, I prefer to bask in my own silence. Less noise coming out of me, the better. I often go through whole days without talking to anyone, and so when I hit the stage it’s like I’m coming out of a cave and learning words again. Suddenly, there’s a group of people in front of me expecting me to be some sort of ambassador of communication, and yet they’ve been talking more than me all day! I’ll stutter and jumble words, looking like I just started comedy for the first time. My brain will freeze and I start worrying that people will demand their money back. This is how I feel every time I return to comedy after a night or two off. It’s an icky feeling. And that’s why I did 1,000 days in a row, just to not feel that way for a while.

Maybe I should just start talking during the day? … Naaaaa.

So here I am, at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, the stage that raised me in my early years, where I learned the art of stage presence, and how to simultaneously get a weird mix of a suburban and urban crowd on my side without being able to use my full vocabulary of words I learned at Berkeley. This is the club that’s closest to my parent’s house in Fremont, the club that called me up to perform every week when I was less than a year in and nobody knew who I was, the first place to headline me on a weekend, and the place where I won a $5,000 competition between 100 comics just less than a year ago. What I’m saying is, I know this stage. If there’s any stage I know, it’s Tommy T’s Pleasanton. I know what pleases them, and also what prickles their pickles (make them angry). I’d never had to resort to using the latter…before this night.

I’m the feature act tonight, and I notice from the opening sets that the crowd is not being very responsive to the comedians. But if anyone shouldn’t bomb, it’s the feature act, since it’s the prime middle spot, where the crowd is warm and not anxious to leave yet. So I go up thinking, “I got this.” Famous last words of a comedian before he/she bombs.

I get on stage and start doing jokes, not my best ones, and my delivery is rusty, but still I feel that I deserve more laughs than what I am yielding. I notice there’s a lot of chatter from a few of the tables. So I talk to them to get them to quiet down. But they don’t. Then I go into a joke about crack and ask if anyone there has ever done crack before, which is a rhetorical question that usually just gets a laugh, but this time, two young women raised their hands, and it was sincere. They really do crack, and one was very proud of it. “Hell yea I do crack!” she exclaimed as she raised her hand. Then, the table next to them started calling them crackheads and laughing, and then a war broke out between the tables, which started to result in an altercation, but then the pissed off members just left. So now the room is now divided, the right hates the left, and the left hates the right. Meanwhile I’m on stage doing a horrible rusty job of choosing the right jokes to keep the rest of the crowd engaged. I start talking to the table in the front that is listening, and it’s this guys first comedy show ever. I say ‘Give it up for this guy, it’s his first show!’ and no one claps. Jeez, this crowd does not want to be controlled.

I continue with jokes, getting a few laughs, but there are tables still talking over me. Finally, I snap, and say, “You know what, let’s get civilized here so I can tell my jokes and you guys can shut up and listen, because we are effectively ruining the show right now, you all by talking, and me by letting it happen” (or something like that). After I say this, I can sense their anger just boiling up. I go on with a few more jokes, and now they are laughing even less, because they, collectively, don’t like me. They already didn’t want to like me, and then when I suggest that they shut up, they liked me less. Except one table in the back is laughing. I say, ‘You guys are the best!’ which makes the rest of the crowd even more hostile because what I said seemed backhanded, even though I was really just trying to bond with the only part of the crowd that likes me.

So now, my show is almost in complete silence, so I just take a break to reshuffle my thoughts, and sigh it out. My brain freezes…. Crickets…You can hear me breathing. And then I say, ‘Well guys, I’ve got about another 10 minutes up here.” Suddenly crowd explodes with a massive “BOO!”. Here we go! It was as if they turned to each other like ‘Holy shit! 10 more minutes of this guy??! No way! We can’t let this happen! We need to boo him off” I was shocked by how the boo came out of nowhere, from complete silence, and furthermore that they were able to coordinate the boo so well with each other, when previously they seemed like a crowd that was not capable of working together to do anything. It was certain they all wanted me off. Part of me is saddened by this deliberate insult to my art, but the other part is surprisingly happy that I emitted a definite reaction from them for once. And now the purpose of this set is at least starting to have meaning.

So now I got a crowd of 100 booing at me, and of course, when all is falling apart, the club gives me the light. I could just get off now. But your boy likes to do his time, and I kinda want to punish this crowd some more. I keep moving forward with jokes, and now it’s like fighting a hail storm. I remember once watching a clip of comedian Bill Burr, where a crowd in Philly was booing him, but he kept going, and ripped on them for his remaining time. I’m not the type to rip on people, so I just keep doing my jokes. I have one guy and his girl laughing in the back and everyone else in silence or boo’s. I look at the guy in the front whose first comedy show it is, and he’s one of the crowd members booing the hardest! Really man? You have no frame of reference, this is your first show! Now I’m really feeling like a piece of sh*t. But I keep going. Now I’m doing jokes that I know they specifically won’t like. Higher brow, jokes about linguistics and religion. I start using words that I know most of them don’t understand, like ‘paradox’. I can feel the hate boiling. People are looking at me like I’m the Satan of comedy who has come to destroy the art form they once knew.

“I’ve got a few more jokes guys”, I say, and the crowd explodes again with an atomic ‘BOOOO!” Well, at least I’m unifying the crowd on something. A crowd that was once fighting each other is now in full harmony with their communal hatred for Sammy Obeid!

So I start going into sex jokes, stuff they would actually like, and it’s all still falling flat to their joke protest. That’s how much they hate me now, that they are hating jokes that they know deep down in their soul that they find funny. And I can sense, after a few of these jokes that they would like, they are starting to realize that I do have value to them, yet we’ve committed so hard to our enmity that we continue to play the game. Well, let’s play then!

“Last joke guys” BOOOOOOO.

Now part of me is feeling bad that I’m doing this at a home club of mine, so I say, “Okay, there’s two things I want you to take home tonight. 1) Keep coming back to Tommy T’s and supporting live comedy. And 2) go fuck yourselves.” The crowd is in shambles, full of “Oh no he didn’t!” and “Get this guy off!” I close with one of my best sex jokes, normally my strongest joke at Tommy T’s, it’s so right for this crowd that it actually has a lot of them laughing against their own will. I can tell the laughs hurt them. It was like I sprayed them with bullets, and then I walk off stage, and I’ve never seen a crowd so excited and rejoicing for my exit.

Walking off stage like that I felt all of embarrassed, failed, yet accomplished, and liberated. I stood my ground and didn’t surrender to them or tell them they were great when they weren’t. I don’t think I could have handled this experience a year ago or before. It would have crushed me. But even if I bomb now, I”m still the guy who did 1,000 days of comedy. I”ve been through worse.

And I didn’t let this experience stop me. I picked myself up and came back to Tommy T’s the next 3 nights in a row and did well on every show. Complete 180. Since the weekend shows at Tommy T’s are normally hot. A few nights later, I”m headlining the Crow’s Nest in Santa Cruz, and a guy and a girl come up after and say, ‘We saw you at Tommy T’s last week’. I was like, “uh-oh, what show?” They said, “The bad one, but we were the couple at the table in the back laughing” I said “You guys! You laughed when no one else did!” They say, “Yea we thought you were so funny that night that we looked you up and came out to this show to see you do a longer set. We’d also like to buy a CD.” I gave them a CD for free, signed with a big heart. Even at my worst, they were fans. And way to not follow the lead of the others that night. That’s what I like to know, that my fans are leaders, not followers or crackheads.

I won’t say that my getting booed of the stage in front of a hundred Pleasantonians was as horrifying of an experience as it was for the young Chappelle in front of thousands of Harlemmers, but I will say that it felt like a defining moment for me as well. One where I learned that I have power over people’s emotions in ways that I didn’t even know I did. And one where I learned that I could take a booing and shrug it off, because I have enough faith in myself as a performer. And I also learned that even when one bombs, there still may be future fans in the room 🙂

Either that or I completely failed to hear the universe trying to tell me to quit.

Day 928: Realize that I believe in God

I’ve never thought myself to be very religious, but I recently realized that I am indeed a man of faith. [Tweet This]

Here’s my religious history:

-When I was 7 I was baptized as a Greek Orthodox Christian. Long story. My grandparents wanted me baptized as a Christian, but my parents (who had become hippies in the 70’s) didn’t want to raise my sister and I religiously. However, after giving in to my grandparents’ consistent hounding, my parents finally decided to get me baptized to shut them up. Problem was, I was already 7 by this time, so I had to stand naked, as a grown child, in front of my whole family while a priest splashed me with water.

-When I was a kid my grandma would take me to church and tell me stories of Jesus. I concurred that he sounded like a great guy, but I found the communion at church to be disgusting. The bread was stale, and wine does not taste good to an 7 year old. So religion left a weird taste in my mouth.

-When I was 8 my parents put me in a Christian summer camp, where I instantly started to doubt the existence of a God. The kids were not very welcoming of me because I didn’t know much Christian trivia or the words to their songs. On the final day though, we did a play, where I was one of the guards to Jesus’s tomb on Easter, and my only line was ‘The stone has been rolled away!’ so that is when I first became an actor.

-When I was 15 I learned about evolution, which seemed to make sense, but still doesn’t explain how we evolved from people from the 80’s. Shoulder pads, really?

-When I was 17, I was having anxiety and mental break downs from stressing about life, and my mom gave me the Power of Now, which got me into meditation, which changed my life.

-When I was 19, I took a class on Buddhism at Cal, and began to practice.

-At 23 I started doing comedy and joined The CoExist Comedy tour as a Buddhist.

-At 25, after doing comedy for 2 years, I realized I was not really Buddhist anymore.

-At 26, after 3.5 years of comedy I start to see it all as meaningless. How could there be a God when I am the master of my own reality. I’m a comedian of 3.5 years, I know everything!

-At 29, after 6 years of comedy, I’m fairly certain I’ve reached my abyss. I’m having anxiety attacks, and just loathing life. As you may know from my blogs I’ve been going through depression and having anxiety, especially over some recent medical stuff. One day I feel so hopeless, I fall to the floor because there’s no point in standing. Just plain misery. I’m hating myself and the world, and I ask, how can I live like this? I can’t kill myself, so what else can I do? And then, very naturally, I say, please, God, help me through this. Then I’m like, what? I believe in God?

Indeed, I am a man in faith! Because at my worst that’s who I seem to naturally turn to. Maybe it was the baptism, maybe it was my upbringing, or just hearing other people pray when they are in misery, but that was the first time it happened, after 29 years. I took this much suffering to bring me closer to God. It’s like this hell has been my visit to jail. Well, whatever it is, catch me wearing a Christmas sweater this Christmas. And I’ll see you at church.

Also, please reference this post if I ever try to run for President. [Tweet This]

Day 365! I made it! Or did I..

Hark! What’s that the angels are saying? It is Christmas? And on this Christmas Day I will receive the biggest gift I have been awaiting, of setting my world record of 365 consecutive days of comedy?? I put on my Sunday’s best and drive on down to Napa for my private gig at the Embassy Suites. Today we are celebrating not only Christmas but the birthday of this family’s uncle Joe, who turns out is the maker of his own brand of Vodka. The fam turns out to be way cooler than I expected. We have kids, 20 somethings, and old folks, but all like to party and have a good time. They let me do a full hour, and it just might be the funnest show of the whole year. We have a buffet afterwards and everyone gives me their blessings and wishes me luck, congratulating me on my accomplishment of a world record! Yay!

An hour later I’m driving home, and see a comment on my facebook post about setting the world record…a local comic tells me that he heard that comedian Hal Sparks (done a bunch of stuff on VH1) once did 2 years of comedy straight, every night. I instantly shrug it off as impossible. But it begins to eat away at me that maybe someone else might have been as crazy as I am. Most comedians are really. I go home and look it up, and all I find is a blurb by Hal Sparks on his site that mentions that there was a point in his career where he really wanted to get good at standup so he performed for 2 years straight, including weekends and holidays. My initial thoughts were a) he’s lying or b) he’s exaggerating. But say he wasn’t. Then what I just did was not a world record at all. Instantly my Christmas gift was shattered into pieces.

But I’m a rational guy, and I picked up those broken pieces and said ya know what? The streak will go on!

Not only do I have to reach 2 years, or 730-731 days, but I have to beat it. By a good margin too. And so it was born, the route to 1,000 days of comedy. And since I’m Middle Eastern, it must be 1,001 Arabian nights of comedy.

To be continued..